Barbara Pfeiffer, Chief Executive Officer
Barbara discovered her BRCA1 mutation in 2003 after her mother had been battling breast cancer for over 12 years. Barbara's volunteer work with FORCE began the following year and continued to expand. Under her leadership, the volunteer operations of the organization grew to 75 groups nationwide. In 2012 Barbara assumed the full-time role of Chief Executive Officer, leading a growing staff as they carry out the strategic plans and policies of FORCE. A former Microsoft Corporation executive, Barbara brings more than 25 years of business experience to FORCE's operations.
Barbara and her husband Alan reside in Staten Island, NY.
Dr. Sue Friedman was practicing small animal medicine in south Florida in 1996 when she was diagnosed "out of the blue" at age 33 with breast cancer. At the time, she was unaware of familial risk factors for hereditary cancer. Reading an article about hereditary breast cancer after completing her treatment, Sue realized that she had several indications for a mutation. She pursued genetic counseling and, in 1997, tested positive for a BRCA2 mutation.
Shocked that her health care team didn't alert her to the possibility of being at high risk, and disappointed at having to make critical treatment decisions while unaware of her mutation, Sue acted so others could benefit from her misfortune. She founded FORCE in 1999 to fill the information void for individuals and families with hereditary cancer and to help them advocate for themselves. After five years as the organization's executive director (while maintaining her own busy practice), Sue left veterinary medicine to direct FORCE full-time. Since then, the organization has become an unequaled source of research, advocacy, support, and information regarding risk management, prevention, and awareness.
In 2004, Sue relocated her husband Dan, son Beau, and FORCE headquarters to Tampa to work more closely with researchers to improve medical options, care, and outcomes for people affected by hereditary cancer. She is a 20-year breast cancer survivor.
Sue is co-author of the book Confronting Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, which was published by Johns Hopkins Press, February 2012.
Raychel connected with FORCE over 20 years ago when she first learned of her own genetic breast cancer risk. She served as a FORCE volunteer in her local community and received a great deal of satisfaction helping others. Raychel is the author of Life in Asymmetry: A Hopeful Journey Over the Peaks and Valleys of Genetic Breast Cancer.
After receiving her Master’s in Public Health from Rutgers University, Raychel worked for both the New Jersey Department of Health and then the California Department of Health in the area of tobacco counter marketing. After several years, she was certified as a wellness coach and started Choicepoint Wellness, providing one-on-one behavior change wellness coaching for 13 years. In late 2018, desiring to work with groups, she started YOLO WELL. As the sole proprietor of both businesses, she managed the day-to-day activities as well as the outreach and marketing efforts. She also brings to the FORCE team 20+ years of experience working with nonprofits.
Raychel lives in Northern California, in a county called Yolo, together with her husband Mitchel, two daughters, Marley and Ruby, and their dog, Chewbarka.
As an experienced corporate relations professional, Kelsey has 10 years of experience working for national and international nonprofit organizations. Healthcare is extremely important to her, and she has spent much of her career in healthcare supporting cancer research, health initiatives for expecting mothers and newborns, and healthy athletes for Special Olympics. With multiple family members and friends who have been affected by cancer, Kelsey is excited to be part of the FORCE team.
Prior to joining FORCE, Kelsey worked for the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation where she worked with corporate partners to help provide STEM education to underrepresented youth. Working with partners like Google, Tesla, and NASA, Kelsey was able to help support these students in getting a quality STEM education. She was able to partner with healthcare organizations to support the mission of the REC Foundation and help educate our next generation of doctors,
researchers, and inventors.
Kelsey lives in Corpus Christi, Texas where she enjoys spending time with her husband, Cole, and their three dogs at the beach.
Sandy lost her 38-year-old grandmother and 54-year-old mom to breast cancer. After becoming a mother, herself, to twins, Sandy underwent genetic counseling and testing, where she learned about her BRCA1 inherited genetic mutation. Feeling very lucky that she had an opportunity to undergo surveillance for 10 years and then risk-reducing surgeries, she wanted to make sure others had this opportunity, as well. In 2006, she started volunteering for FORCE and co-founded FORCE’s Philadelphia outreach group. After several years, she transitioned to a staff position to create a national support program. This involved implementing intensive volunteer training, in which individuals learn how to provide confidential and non-judgmental support and expert-reviewed resources to others and obtain a rewarding experience.
Sandy enjoys working with FORCE's incredibly passionate volunteer team, which consists of over 350 individuals who empower others to make informed medical decisions with their healthcare providers via FORCE’s helpline, message boards, peer navigation matching program and support meetings. Her team helps to ensure that no one faces hereditary cancer alone. They welcome everyone into our FORCE family.
In 2018, Sandy took on an additional role as staff liaison to FORCE’s Board of Directors to keep them updated on program goals and results and help recruit and onboard new board members.
Sandy graduated with a BSBA in Marketing from American University and an MBA in Marketing from St. Joseph's University. She’s a former Kraft/Alliant Foodservice marketing director and currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Barry.
When Verinda’s younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, it took the family by surprise. Resources and access to genetic testing was practically non-existent in the African American community. There were minimal resources for young African Americans diagnosed with cancer and no roadmap to follow. Despite the family’s best efforts at educating themselves on existing treatments, dietary changes, holistic and traditional therapies, Verinda’s sister lost her fight with breast cancer at the age of 32. Devastated by this loss, Verinda and her youngest sister were driven to complete genetic testing a few years later, only to find that they both carry the BRCA1 gene mutation.
Verinda was introduced to FORCE by her breast surgeon. FORCE became her go-to for the latest information and resources. Verinda attended a FORCE conference where she was impressed with the physician presentations, discussions of new modalities and treatments and was able to meet other people affected by hereditary cancer. After returning from the conference, Verinda made the difficult decision to undergo risk reduction surgeries. She has since become a volunteer Patient Advocate for FORCE where she focuses on the issue of healthcare disparities. She recently completed a workshop on creating the importance of diversity in participant selection in clinical trials. She is driven by her family’s experience with hereditary cancer and her belief that knowledge is power. Verinda’s goal is to ensure that those who have been touched by hereditary cancer also have access to support and resources no matter who they are, who they love or where they live. Genetic mutations lie hidden; finding support and access to resources shouldn’t be.
Verinda holds a Bachelor of Science degree and has over twenty years of corporate experience as an Account Executive in both pharmaceutical and medical device sales where she successfully built relationships with healthcare providers and academic medical centers. Verinda lives in northern New Jersey with her husband, Lloyd.
Karen brings more than 30 years of strategic marketing and communications experience to her goal of increasing awareness about FORCE and helping individuals and families affected by hereditary cancer.
When Karen discovered she had a BRCA1 mutation in 2009, the information and support she received from FORCE helped her navigate her own BRCA journey. As a previvor and FORCE volunteer, she spearheaded a social media growth campaign and efforts that led to the passage of a resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives recognizing National Hereditary Cancer Week and National Previvor Day. Through a myriad of communication and partnership efforts, FORCE has become the voice of the hereditary cancer community. Today, Karen's personal experiences and dedication to the FORCE community drive her to build greater awareness and provide potentially life-saving information to others.
Karen previously led marketing efforts for a mid-size investment bank, as well as a startup software company, helping it become the international leader in nonprofit and association software solutions. She graduated from The University of Maryland with a BS in Marketing and earned her MBA in Marketing from The George Washington University.
Karen and her husband live in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Ruth Kucharz, Vice President of Development
Ruth Kucharz has more than 20 years of non-profit development experience. After working for 10 years with the Walt Disney World Company, she moved into the non-profit arena by successfully directing nation-wide direct marketing programs for a large cancer organization in the role of Marketing Director moving into the role of Regional VP, accountable for high-end relationships, as well as oversight of 100+ fundraising walks, events, and galas.
Prior to joining FORCE, Ruth was the Sr. Director of Annual Giving for the University of South Florida. In her time with USF, she directed a centralized, integrated annual giving program for the university through its accomplishment of a $600 million comprehensive campaign. Ruth has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Florida Southern College.
Ruth lost her mother to ovarian cancer and her grandmother to breast cancer. She and her husband Don love being with their children and grandchildren, and divide their time between Florida and Minnesota.
Baleigh Margol, Administrative Assistant
After a high-risk pregnancy and long-term hospital stays for both herself and her premature twins, Baleigh knew that when she reentered the workforce she wanted to be involved with bringing hope to others facing difficult medical circumstances. She was happy to have found such a role when joining FORCE in 2017.
Baleigh began her career at The Walt Disney Company in various administrative and resource positions with Merchandise Product Development and Creative Entertainment, and began working for MetLife in insurance benefits administration after relocating to Tampa. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Event Management from the University of Central Florida.
Baleigh lives in the Tampa Bay area with her husband, Jayson, and their children, Avelyn and Slade.
Jackie began her association with FORCE while finishing her master's thesis and working as an administrative assistant for the organization. She quickly began taking on additional responsibilities before becoming the organization's Director of Operations in 2008 and then in 2014 becoming the Vice President of Finance and Operations. Jackie works closely with the staff to ensure that day-to-day FORCE operations run smoothly.
Jackie has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Florida and a Master of Health Administration from the University of South Florida. She has been working in the non-profit field for over 10 years.
She resides in Wesley Chapel, Florida with her husband, Eli, and her children, Cadence, Reed and Harper.
Kelly Owens, PhD, Director, Education and Research
Kelly Owens, PhD, brings over 20 years of experience in the field of genetics to FORCE as Director of Research and Education.
As a postdoctoral researcher with Dr. Mary-Claire King, she studied cancer risk in families with BRCA mutations. Working as the interface between researchers, genetic counselors and the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer community, she was involved in the New York Breast Cancer Study and NSABP tamoxifen trial examining impact on BRCA carriers. Her later research focused on the genetics of hearing loss and preventive drug development. She has published multiple peer-reviewed articles, holds several patents and successfully helped lead an academic drug development project through its translational phase to small start-up business.
Kelly has been a science educator and advocate throughout her career. She has taught genetics and biology at the University of Washington, been an advocate in the WA schools and an awarded public speaker. Her position at FORCE allows her to meld her research acumen and passion for science education with a desire to give back to the community. Kelly lives in Seattle, WA, near her grown son, with an elderly dog and lively kitten.
Lisa comes to FORCE with professional experience in advocacy, government relations, grassroots development and a personal drive to improve healthcare. In collaboration with another family, Lisa and her husband developed a large and profitable brain cancer charity event that thrived for 10 years.
She joined the public policy team at the National Brain Tumor Society in 2016 where she was their representative in DC. Leveraging her 11 years as a teacher, she created a year-round grassroots training curriculum to educate advocates and provide activities for congressional engagement throughout the year. She will continue this work at FORCE, recruiting, mobilizing and guiding volunteers, maintaining a strong community to advocate for the needs of the cancer hereditary community.
Lisa is an active volunteer with organ and tissue donation awareness and was instrumental in changing organ and tissue donation policy at her local hospital. She loves to hike and bike with her 2 dogs and 5 children and is always solving a jigsaw puzzle.
Marisol saw her mother fight breast cancer when she was very young, only to lose her when she was 8 years old to ovarian cancer. Since then, she always feared she would one day have those same fights.
Years later, married and with two beautiful sons, she went for her routine mammogram. Given her family history, genetic counseling was suggested. It was time to face her fears and undergo genetic testing.
She tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation. Knowing very well the pain left behind to those you love, she decided to fight this and learn as much as possible. That is when she found FORCE, an incredible source of information with an even more incredible community of fighters, like her. She knew she was not alone in this fight.
She has since gone through her prophylactic double mastectomy and prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. She is a previvor and proud of it. She knew it was time to give back and she is now in charge of the Helpline at FORCE. She is also involved in her Hispanic community and has participated in several conferences, both at home and beyond our borders.
Marisol resides in San Diego, California with her husband, Luis, and her two sons, Santiago and Nicolas.
Diane's family was shocked to learn their genetic test results following her aunt's ovarian cancer diagnosis in 1999 at the age of 53. When Diane discovered that her BRCA1 mutation was passed down from her father, she decided it was time to take action. She was given information about FORCE through her genetic counselor, went to local FORCE support meetings and researched options to reduce her risk. Diane made informed medical decisions and is proud to be called a previvor!
Diane became an outreach co-coordinator in Philadelphia and quickly decided that she would love to help FORCE in any other way needed. She became the Director of Volunteer Programs and a FRAT Advocate (FORCE Research Advocate Training Program).
She has a BA in Education from Kutztown University and worked for 20 years as an Early Childhood Education Center Director. Diane and her husband, Thomas, have a teenage daughter and two married sons.
Lisa is a recognized consumer advocacy leader for the hereditary cancer community. Joining the FORCE staff in 2010, she combines her personal knowledge and experiences as a BRCA1 mutation carrier with over 20 years in public affairs and advocacy. She spearheads FORCE’s legislative and regulatory policy efforts, advocating for the unique needs of people who carry inherited genetic mutations that increase their risk of cancer, and the broader hereditary cancer community.
Well-versed in health care and genetic privacy laws, Lisa is the point person on national guidelines and advocacy issues affecting the FORCE community. She possesses expert knowledge on policies affecting, and insurance coverage of, screening and preventive services for individuals at increased risk of cancer and targeted treatments for those diagnosed with hereditary cancers. She is passionate about improving access to needed health services; facilitating precision medicine so the right patient gets the right treatment or care at the right time; and, advocating for improved protections for those with inherited genetic mutations and pre-existing conditions.
Lisa lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband, two children and their dog Penny.
Dr. Piri L. Welcsh was finishing her Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics at The Ohio State University when she read the groundbreaking research paper by Dr. Mary-Claire King describing the location of BRCA1. Guided by this pioneering research, she committed herself to the study of inherited cancer. Her postdoctoral project at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was in collaboration with Mary-Claire’s groups and others to clone BRCA1. During this time, her maternal grandmother was diagnosed and died of breast cancer and her mother was also diagnosed and is currently a two-time breast cancer survivor.
Piri joined Mary-Claire King’s laboratory at the University of Washington in 1996 and spent the next 20 years working with her and others identifying other hereditary cancer genes, as well as studying how they normally function in cells. A few years ago, shortly after her mother was diagnosed with a second primary breast cancer, both of her mother’s sisters as well as her mother’s cousin were also diagnosed with breast cancer. Piri is a previvor of sorts in that she is part of a high-risk breast cancer “mystery family”, a family with a lot of breast cancer, but no known mutation in any known breast cancer gene.
Piri lives in Seattle, WA with her boy/girl twins and another son. Her family absolutely loves living and playing in the Pacific Northwest
Rebekah Wells, Senior Vice President of Development
Rebekah has more than 15 years of experience helping families affected by cancer. Beginning her career with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Kansas City, where, as Development Manager, she supported blood cancer research working with local donors to help find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improving the quality of life of patients and their families.
Prior to joining FORCE, Rebekah was the Development Director for the Brent Eley Foundation, which operates Brent's Place a Denver-based non-profit that provides long-term housing and support for families traveling to Denver for life-saving medical treatment. At Brent's Place, Rebekah and her team helped raise funds to ensure every family receives unlimited support, but never a bill.
Holding a B.A. in Public Relations from Northwest Missouri State University, Rebekah is also a Certified Fund Raising Executive.
With several family members and close friends who have been affected by cancer, she has a heart to make a difference using her skills. Rebekah also enjoys spending time with her family, good books and traveling with her husband, Jared.